Chicken, Egg and 50 shades of evolution

I’m usually not in the habit of maintaining a cheat sheet to structure the flow of thoughts. There is always a first time and first time it shall be now.

The crux of the thoughts are around the following lines

Tabula rasa – > Innatism – > Nature vs Nurture , that challenges evolution ; Empiricism in conflict with determinism and not good friends with innatism. Nihilism vs opposite of that!

Righty roo.

I have my eyes on the book, The Blank Slate and to prepare for the book I started to read a little on the subject. In a way, this blog would be a pre condition check and once I’ve read the book, hopefully, I should have grown wiser! Tough luck there, but I’ll keep an open mind. it’s not everyday where I get to mock my opinionated self.

Lets try to structure the circus that runs in my mind. Chicken , egg and evolution. The age old question, which came first is a classic example of pointlessness. We were not around to witness the birth of the chicken or the delivery of the first egg. Ergo, the loudest wins or the most geekiest explaination stands to win. To me, I couldn’t care less about the origin of my omelette.

The journey of words led me down a wonderful path. The path is outlined as the following

1. I am what I am. – > What I am is a collection of all my bias, experiences , innate talent and acquired skill. The whole conversation of acquisition of skill trumps innate talent is still wide at play.

2. I am what I’m meant to be – > The big predisposition of fate and destiny comes into play. In my futile attempt to justify all the bits and bolts of life, I can take a little comfort, and I’m lying through my teeth here , in knowing that I’m meant for things and whatever that I’ve gone through and will go through, will be in line with what’s in store in my destiny. I don’t subscribe to this view of destiny and determinism. That’s an open area of contention.

3. Like everyone else, My life will have a purpose or just like everyone else, none of our lives are meant to serve any purpose at all.

These three are often indicative of all the justifications that we offer in the face of a defeat. Either we accept, learn adapt and bounce stronger. Or we accept and drag in the universe to assure ourselves that our loss was destined. Or, we say things are meant to be that way and something better is in the making. The degree of our failure is dependent on what we choose to believe and what that keeps us comfy and smug in denial.

Tabula Rasa , aka, blank slate states that we are like clay. We can be beaten and shaped up to be anything. It also means that entire life ahead is an outcome of stimulus and that means, we are what we are and that is defined by our experiences and our reactions to them. This makes sense and only it doesn’t as well. Our genetic fabric has information locked within it. We carry forward information that helps with our survival. While at the primal level, this makes sense, it need not mean that everything that we need , comes within our blood. Should that be the case, why would we bother learning anything at all.

The fact that our blood does not define what or who we are, it’s not a stretch for me to debunk the role of an entire vast universe in deciding my fate.

That’s just me. Empiricism talks about our ability to learn and adapt through experiences. It says that we are a product of our society and our interaction with it. The case of nurture versus nature. It banks on Nurture and conditioning. While this is true for most of us, This view also conflicts with both Destiny and Innatism. Since we learn from the world around, we are a product of our choices, we therefore are not left at the mercy of the universe and we aren’t at the mercy of our genetic markup.

If we are a product of the choices that we make and refuse to make, it also conflicts with the ‘Ghost in the machine’ ideology. Ghost in the machine, like it’s cyber punk relative, Ghost in the Shell, talks about mind and the body as separate entities. The impact of choices on mind as an entity and the body, now that baffles me. Mind has a mind of it’s own and so does the body. How do the two work in order to evolve us? That’s a question that has many answers and it depends on where one is looking for those answers.

The mark of a good book is not around how many questions for which it offers an answer. In fact it’s quite the opposite. It’s around how many questions that it makes us ask.

I’d like to believe that this book would open up a few questions that I didn’t know even existed. All that said, it’s been fun to contemplate around the many fears that surrounds our existence. From doubts around capabilities, to fears around history’s ferocity in wanting to repeat itself. From fate that wants us to fail to stars that remain mute and stones that bring better luck. Us humans are complicated and we are so , only because of the things that we tell ourselves to justify the soil upon which we make our shaky stand.

Karthik

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And what if I told you

Oh there is something absolutely romantic and loaded with a sense of a purpose that spans a lifetime when we make a promise to take a secret to our grave. I can almost visualise the cinematic experience to the moment. Blackened clouds, rainfall over a freshly dug grave. There is a good chance that I’d be tossed into a furnace, but then I do digress. Back to the picturesque view of the immediate beyond. Cemetery, red roses, black dresses and a matching umbrella of black, rainfall. A bloke six feet under and a secret buried along.

And that’s precisely where the pointlessness starts. For starters; Secrets, promises, grudges and many billion moments remembered are memories. And what if I told you that the mind is neither the best or the most reliable scribe. I’m not talking about the mind’s ability to forget. I’m talking about the other side of the spectrum. The mind remembers what it wants to remember. What it wants to remember isn’t necessarily the absolute true north reporting of an event that occurred.

Memory is , at best, a placeholder. It is a flagging of a moment. Most of us pin that flag to remind ourselves that a certain event had occurred. A lot of us manage to retain some of the details and specifics of things that transpired. A very few of us retain the details without applying a bias. To present a simplified view of the process, a memory can be summed as

Memory = What happened + How we felt when things happened + What we thought led to that event transpire + Our reaction to that event + How we processed the moment of the reveal + Our bias on the all the participants who contributed to that event + HOW WE THEN WENT ABOUT ARTICULATING ON THAT MEMORY.

A memory is not as simple as a recording of what happened. It’s a recording of who you were when things happened. No wonder that a memory is a deeply personal affair.

That said and established, all of us change over time and only few of us have the courage to accept that change. History only repeats itself as long as we fail to acknowledge that we aren’t the same person that we once were. The longer we cling on to what we were, the longer the history runs on a loop. Memory is one massive contributing factor that keeps us glued to the person that we once were. Memories keep us away from embracing the present.

While the power of memory, and by implication the past , cannot be trivialised ; it’s also worth the while to ponder over how unreliable a memory is. The world of humans define the rest of their lives , basing their entire life on something that is biased, unreliable and not necessarily even true. There are truths and then there are versions of that truth. A lot of our decision making process relies heavily on these versions of the truth.

Only we fail to recognise the subtle difference between truth and it’s many diverse versions.

What got me thinking about memory is the conviction with which my Grand father reminded me that I had squandered away a life. His view of the truth was that during my days as a musician, I was crowded and adored by the huge fan base of groupies. He said I had skipped the phase of finding a right life partner. My grand pa believes in this view of my history with all his heart. He swears by it.

My version of the truth is that my band never did have any fan base. We weren’t even cool enough to have groupies. We were a bunch of guys, who were in it for the thrills of the music. My gramps has managed that alternate history for a few years now and with each year passing, his certainty of that alternate history keeps growing stronger.

My grand pa is not all that very unique and special. I’ve had many memories , the bubbles of them, shattered over in time. I came to terms with other versions of the truth that weren’t necessarily mine. In time, through growing a little wise, through unlearning and adapting an open mind, I’ve come to realise that a lot of the past that I retell, are only accounts of what I think happened. They are in no way an honest to god, truth to the line reporting of events.

It’s just sad that we , as normal ; average ; mundane ;sober and rational people, invest so much effort , time and emotions into Hate, Grudge, Love, Past that it alters the very present of our existence. We live in a fool’s world, base our decisions on a fool’s gold chest of memories, reason out that ours is the only version of the truth and that there doesn’t exist another form of the truth. It’s just way too many decisions being made on a shaky foundation.

And in that sense, what if I told you that most of our lives are based on a Lie? A lie of our choosing and making.

Karthik

[Book Review] wild : from lost to found in the pacific Crest trail

Wild, as I’ve come to recognise and will go on to remember the book , is a biographical narrative of Cheryl Strayed. It’s her account of her 1100 mile hike through the pacific crest trail. PCT run all the way from Canada to Mexico. Cheryl manages the hike in around 100 odd days.

Of course, left to my wits, I’d have never picked this book in a million years. I’m not a huge fan of the non fiction genre unless it talks about philosophy or spirituality. Kanchan had reviewed the copy and I added to my list of things to read. I picked the book in 2017 and hadn’t bother freeing the book from the shipping wrapper that Amazon had used to deliver. As chance would have it, I didn’t plan my purchases right and I wasn’t left with any other choice. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. I’ll explain shortly.

Back to Ms Strayed. She loses her mother to cancer and her mother’s death sends Cheryl’s life on the super express highway of self destruction. Depression sets in and over time a massive void engulfs her heart. As Cheryl fails to cope up with the reality , all her relationships start to deteriorate. She finds herself estranged from her step dad, divorced from her husband, distanced from her sister and brother. She slips into a life of a junkie , in time. Let’s just say that we have a crisp clear view of what a rock bottom looks like.

Through all of this, Cheryl chances upon a guide to the PCT. Spur of the moment, spontaneously she starts to harbour a deep rooted desire to hike the trail. She saves the money needed to gear up for the hike, reads about the trail and beings her journey of preparing mentally and acquiring the right enough equipment that she can afford. And just like that, her first day in the trail begins.

I think all of us find our demons when we are left all alone, with nothing but time and a million thoughts to keep us complicit company. This book is a biography of sorts. Cheryl is as special as the rest of us, as gifted as the rest of us and that means she isn’t immune to loneliness and demons that hunt us down in those moments. As she hikes through the trails, she gathers thoughts along the way her life has been, how she misses her mother, her failed marriage, and a little more pressing thought that is firmly grounded in the present reality. She contemplates the fact that she is under prepared for the trail and her inexperience has the right potential to get her killed.

To make matters worse, through all her meticulous planning, Cheryl manages to have a backpack that ends up getting stuffed with everything including the kitchen sink. Her new reality is a backpack that she can barely lift, let alone carry it through the 1100 mile hike through the mountains and forests. We, the readers and Cheryl soon start to focus on the job at hand. The battle of surviving the day becomes the apex priority. The challenging hike begins to inspire a change in the way the mind works. We see the full gambit of emotions at play. Guilt, Resentment, Anger, Denial, Realization, Acceptance and eventually a pristine moment of catharsis. The state cycle of life’s many emotions at its grandest display.

Her emotional battles aside, the hike also presents us with other battles. Is the world really a safe place? Are humans nice or animals in disguise. Cheryl meets a lot of interesting characters along the way. Most of them are nice and fill the moments of her life with kindness and warmth. Some are point blank rude. Some are creepy. I find it hard to believe that she managed to land with great awesome odds with strangers. Maybe it’s just the skeptic in me who refuses to believe in the goodness and kindness in people. I wouldn’t know better till I start my journey into the wild of the world.

The book has a wonderful theme. It talks about how vulnerable we are. A death ripped Cheryl’s life apart. The event causes her to self destruct. Thankfully, she’s not lost beyond the point of no return. For rest of us, that kind of a luck is not always at our disposal.

Depression and Self destruction are classic signs of an individual’s struggle against coping up with the events of life. I’ve been there.

Maybe I’m way too thick headed to be depressed. I’m far too funny to embrace elongated moments of saddened depression. I’m no stranger to self destruction. We destroy ourselves by hiding behind excuses. Some call it work, some call it relationship, some call it the EMI. The deception is played by many names. In our efforts of pretending to be normal and compensating the things that we lack, we often complicate our life and choices rather than simplifying them and leading a stress-free life.

Cheryl finds her balance through the hike. When you have real, tangible, quantifiable, physical , ‘not in the bloody mind’ challenges to deal with, you come out stronger for two reasons.

1. When you conquer a challenge that exists beyond the confines of your mind, the success is visible immediately. Either you power on, or you don’t.

2. By translating the demons in the mind to actual challenges that can be physically conquered, we also manage to symbolically conquer the demons that occupy the mind.

Science says that and proves that. My experience also points in the same direction. As long as one locks away the demons in the head, one cannot think through a redemption. The problem resides in the mind. To overcome it, one has to move the demons to the realm of the living and beat the living hell out of it.

The book is about one woman’s conquest of herself. Her journey, beside the 1100 mile on a radically tough and diverse terrain, is also about the realisation of self, it’s about letting one forgive oneself, letting one help oneself and letting oneself heal. I don’t see Cheryl’s account as any different from the books of spirituality that I’ve read. She had managed to DO the things in an alternate way, a way that suited her apt. The principles remain the same.

There are no surprises in the end. Cheryl does manage to accomplish her hike. She powers on and gets the job done. Somewhere in those 1100 miles, she loses the lost version of herself and ends up meting a stronger and a better version of herself.

I loved the book. I’d probably go as far as calling that this is the first SELF HELP book that I’ve read and I do like it plenty.

Karthik

Run to the hills

One – Two, One – Two, One- Two, the mantra that I kept chanting in my head. It wasn’t exactly a walk in the park. The steep enough up hill was a challenge of sorts. I didn’t know of an alternate route and was too proud to jump routes now. I was going to do it and I knew it wouldn’t be the end of me. I climbed for as long as I could. I couldn’t maintain the momentum for far too long. It was my first pause, around half way through the hill.

I paused to take a good look around the view. There weren’t many folks above on the path. There were a few below, waiting to catch up. I thought my head would be inundated with thoughts over the magnitude of the moment, or the almost triumph of doing things, or of doubts and protests to give up and turn back towards the comforts of the bed. Nothing. All I could hear were the sounds of my deep panting breaths and the sound of the wind whizzing past me. It was the most precious moment to life. Nothing else existed. The reality was narrow. There was me, there was a hill waiting to be climbed, there was the spirit , fighting against giving up, and there was nothingness to it all.

I took a swig from the water bottle. I packed it in my bag again. I turned to face the hill and One – two, One – two all over again. If only that was the only pause in the climb. It wasn’t. Two more gentle pauses, my ego bruised, but the hill seized and conquered. I sat down thinking about what the hell I was doing on a hill on a rather sunny day.

The tale starts with a tale. Wild, to be precise. Wild , by Cheryl Strayed , is a book about a woman who opts to hike the Pacific Crest Trail. It was more than a spur of the moment decision for her. The choice to hike was a momentary decision and she’d go on to plan the hike as meticulously as she could. All the plans and preparation later, she’d realise that no amount of planning could substitute the lessons that experience imparts. She does it for her reasons. She evolves as she keeps pushing forward.

I’ve been through a similar cycle before. I started my fitness routine on that very same impulsive note. I got up one morning and decided that I had to get fitter. A few years later, a lot of challenges and doubts later, I was climbing a novice hill and wondering about how the choices of my life have evolved through time. I’ve always wished to hike. Those wishes decorated the fancy bucket of my bucket list. Wishes that lacked conviction but did carry a nice story to convey. The book was the final straw in the straws of inspiration. I had to had to had to experience a hike. Making my mind wasn’t hard. I set out with two bottles of water and a packet of digestive biscuits.

The thing is, when you are fighting to stabilise your breathing, when you are fighting to keep yourself moving forward through the pain and fatigue, when your mind does not bother prioritising other thoughts and it focuses with determined singular view of the task at hand, none of the world matters. You are left with yourself and your moment. There are no further distractions.

I’ve always believed in that and I’ve practised that. Life’s many lemons are easily forgotten when you invest all the energies into a routine. My routine consists of hitting the gym, making music and writing. Through these activities, I’ve never failed to channelize all my thoughts into a singular activity. Through these activities, I’ve had many moments where I’ve not strayed my mind towards the noise and clutter of the whole wide vast world. Through these, I’ve come to learn that as long as we sit and do nothing, we are free to stay consumed by our thoughts. If we muster the nerve to invest into an activity, that is disconnected and disjoint from the norm of the BAU woes of fears and doubts, we also help ourselves in due course of that process. We change as we invest ourselves to such choices.

There is something at the very centre of our universe which uniformly impacts everything about our lives. That happens to be us. We are neither open nor free to make selective changes that change the outcome of specifics around us. It is the simplest and yet the most elegant display of the butterfly effect. The means of reaching a focused mind, irrespective of what we do, inadvertently calms us down and facilitates a better decision making process through the complex thoughts that our minds host. Folks call this mindfulness. Folks call it the realisation that there is nothing more to us than individual moments that keep the linearity of life connected. I call it the much needed , necessary, timeout from the rapid, quicksand of daily routine. If we continue to do the same thing, continue to think the same way , the outcome would continue to fuel the doubts and fears. The choice of changing the pattern to the things that we do does sow the seeds of subtle changes to our living. In time, the changes are no longer just subtle.

From books to an inspiration. From an inspiration to a cathartic moment, I have two people to thank for the wonderful day of challenging my mind and my body. Cheryl Strayed, the lady who blazed through the PCT and Kanchan Shukla, who recommended the book. Off all the disconnected strings that eventually led to a very tangible , sensible and conspired action, the dots do confirm the butterfly theory.

Here is to life’s many million doors that we are yet to acknowledge their existence. Hope , when the time comes, we have the sight to see them and the heart to act on our desire to open new doors.

Karthik

Finding Zeno!

I’ve stayed fascinated to the Schrodinger’s kitty cat. The cat experiment, I reckon, is a very cruel thought experiment which involves keeping the said cat locked in an irradiated box! The whole question is around the state of uncertainty of the life of the said cat. Arguably, the cat exhibits the duality of both life and death. These are the two possible outcomes and a whole ocean of quantum science around it.

To the lab coats and top aces in the house, I do apologise for my unerwhelming explanation of the phenomenon.

And so the fascination took me back to the same wiki page and I happened to stop by the ZENO effect. The one line that caught my attention read something like this , ‘The zeno effect is known to cause delays to any state of change from the initial’. A URL hop later, the English explanation of the phenomenon could be understood as Zeno and Anti-Zeno are effects that either decelerate or accelerate the change from one state to another. The not so English explanation is that When a delivery manager is standing right behind you and watching you type the code that would fix a defect, the time it takes to get the fix ready is exceptionally longer as compared to the scenario where the manager just shoots a FYA mail rather than watching you like a hungry demented cynical antisocial sociopath.

Before we jump to conclusions about who kept staring at me, back in the day, I used to do that to my team. I’d watch. Fixes would come when they’d come. It gave me a sense of control and assurance that a fix would be on its way. Not that it changed the outcome, but it sure as hell was personally comforting and satisfying experience!!!!!!!

Why not? I was going to shoot other examples around the phenomenon, but the one called out also does satisfy the norm. A watched pressure cooker does seldom whistle ( lessons learnt from last night) .

Why oh why do we assume that our personal supervision is the only contributing factor that ensures a successful completion of a transaction? Does it always work? Will the effect be the same without our presence? What difference does it make, besides adding pressure? Does that also mean introducing pressure always reaps benefit?

Far too many questions for the Friday. Answer is yes and no. It works when it has to. And when you adopt the same singular tunnelled vision view towards all aspects of delivery, chances are that it wont work. Context is king. Timing is the queen. The king and the queen save the kingdom.

There you go. I’ve done my part trying to talk about Zeno in a professional context. Lets push it further to a realm that I’m more excited to talk about. Life.

Outcomes in life are inevitable.

That is a loaded statement. It does not mean that there is a destiny and that everything is ordained. We are here, like a bunch of robots who run on a rather badly written code by the cheapest vendor and are set to operate to deliver predictable outputs. No, that need not be life. That’s not the life that I’d like to live. Outcomes are inevitable because we make choices. We can’t exist without making a choice. In fact, not making a choice is a choice and that choice will lead to an outcome and that outcome is inevitable.

We can either accelerate towards facing that consequence or we can delay it for as long as we can. The further we try to push the consequence, the longer we keep resisting to face that consequence, the longer we stay in misery and woe.

Case in point, my Twelfth grade results. I was optimistic about not faring all that great. I was a bit scared that I might fail the exams. The results declared, my anxiety grew through the roof. The restlessness began to crawl through every cell in my body. I was scared of a bleak future. I was afraid of a million things that were yet to even occur. I was scared because I didn’t know how the future would look like. I was scared because I didn’t know how I had fared in the exams.

I did the best that a kid my age would go. Well not exactly the best. The best would have been the means of studying through the year and staying prepared for acing the exams. I did the second best. I offered my selfish prayers to God. I made shady deals with god. Bribes of coconut and a religious living ever after. The good thing about god is that unless you are blessed with schizo, one usually doesn’t hear her voice.

Then I moved my attention to lady luck. I tempted my fate by tagging patterns and calling bets.

Then came in the Anti-Zeno. I went to collect my results. The numbers were now at hand. Decades later today, I don’t care enough to remember the good numbers. They weren’t good. That I do remember.

The inevitable faced, I hoped that it would be the end of it. Only it wasn’t. The consequence had manifested. I was yet to deal with the effects of the consequences. Now at 35, I think I’ve run my course with the consequence of the numbers that I obtained from the grade. There is no retrospect. There is no what if. It was an experience survived, endured and now comfortably forgotten. I still do have dreams where I see myself in school again. That’s a funny dream. I’m still me at 35 and I’m still at school. It sure does complicate the reactions from my teachers in my dreams.

That’s the thing about many aspects of life. We are what we are today. We aspire something new , some change for tomorrow. We fear the unknown. That fear , sometimes it cripples us so much that we are left unable to do anything at all to inch towards that change. Some times, we brave new odds, face new failures but are on the right track, by moving forward. There are us, who accelerate. There are us who stall.

Staying in the same place is not all that great an option either. It’s not a great alternative plan. Stagnation today is obsolete by tomorrow. Comes back to quantum’s very own Zeno and Anti Zeno.

It might sound like a philosophical association to the vast science to quantum, but hey, that’s how my mind works.

Staying afraid is normal. Everybody is scared. Facing your fears is not the easiest of things to do. It is in fact that most singular HARDEST step in the evolution process. The minute you face, subsequent steps are simpler in comparison.

On that note, a toast to Zeno, Anti-Zeno and Schrodinger’s little kitty cat.

Karthik

Carrots and sambar – A tale of life

And so there I was wondering about the next course of life. It was a busy week and I was leading it through jangling nerves. My body was playing a jazz rhythm of its own.

There has always been a dream. A carrot of carrots , if you may. The dream has been a Remote controlled car. As the years flew by, that obsession to buying an RC car grew stronger. I had reached a point in life where I had grown scared of actually buying one. What if having an RC was pointless? What if it didn’t turn out to be as much fun as I had imagined for well over two decades? What if? In pursuit of keeping the dream alive, I shifted focus to another dream. A red sports car.

The mileage through life has one singular tangible benefit. It’s called a pay check. One could argue that the check wasn’t plenty but it exists and I had to make peace with it. A quick scan , check and compromised acceptance later, I had managed to put a number to another carrot. A carrot in an ocean of carrots.

A red Jaguar, F-Type, the math worked out to £55,000. It was most definitely a compromise of sorts. The entry variant came cheap-ish. The number opened up another series of numbers in the long list of numbers that mandate life. It would probably take me 3 years to save enough to pick one. Adjusting for inflation was another number to deal with. Loans and EMI were numbers that I didn’t want to consider.

With the immediate milestone set, I had other things to plan around. A driver’s license was another headache to sort through. Riding from point A to point B is seldom the point. The free trial exam was a good example of pointlessness of the education system that I had endured. Do you call for help or do you help when someone is injured on the road? Do you overtake or do you wait? Do you honk or do you smile? The questions were plenty and they were trying effortlessly to inspire the civil , obedient , compliant , numbed citizen in me. I soon lost interest.

Then came the logistics of acquiring one. The written exam, now ignored, the actual driving test was another logistics fuelled nightmare. Rent a car that had baby wheels to them. While many of these listed things seem rational and acceptable, to my mind , they were ridiculous. Living in London often translates to sanity that prevails and why one would opt for a public transport than loitering in a car and paying through the roof for parking tickets.

That said, I had carrots to run after. Then came more numbers into the mix. ‘So’, my boss said. ‘Looks like you have plans of swapping a wife for a red sports car!’. And he was right. I hadn’t considered the cost of a marriage or the operational cost of a shared life. More numbers and I could see life slipping away between each line item.

The Monday was harsh and it usually is harsh most Mondays. Issues to resolve, meetings to report, meetings to chair. Monday is the kind of the day when I’m left gasping for air. There are ‘Back to back’ calls and I wish I was still leading the simpler life where I got to join a meeting , place the phone on mute and sit away contemplating the other challenges to life which included, where do I eat tonight , what movie to watch during the weekend, where do ‘We’ go for the weekend, what did ‘we’ almost discuss last evening.

Those days are years and a lifetime ago. There isn’t a going back. The clouds and the silver lining of the mileage is that most things that I talk about, on a professional basis, have consequences tagged to them. Some bear benefits, some flag risks, some put smiles across the customers and some, frowns across the business. Physically present and mentally in a different planet isn’t an option anymore.

And then I said ‘ Sorry, missed that. Was lost in a different train of thought’, I interrupted the meeting. It was a close call. My mind was drifting off and I had to head back into the game. I couldn’t afford to sit and count the carrots in my grocery basket. The iteration lasted a while. Good byes later, another meeting kick started.

With a twenty minute break, I had to make a choice. I had ample time to freshen up, call my folks , pick a sandwich and rush back to desk. No hot lunch and it was the usual norm for the Monday. Freshen up – Check. Call mom and dad – Check. Pick a sandwich – No GO. A glance on the salt and calories label, I had made a choice to pick a coffee rather than a sandwich. The dash back to the meeting was timely. The screen buzzed to life, the mind buzzed with questions, for a while. And then it drifted.

Somewhere between the decisions that impacted the next financial year, I had a concentrated , centred, dedicated focus over wanting to have Sambar for dinner. The breakfast and lunch now skipped, the saving grace was a Sambar dinner. I tried to remember the snapshot of the fridge back home. Onions, nope. Tamarind, nope.Tomatos, iffy at best. Lentils, yup.

‘I’m sorry. Missed that. When do we want that report by?’, I had managed to yank myself away from the distraction and also salvage the damage done. From Jaguar to sambar, the day’s motivations had travelled really far indeed. The commute back home, the shops hopped, things picked. I came home to a hot room. London’s been blazing away , putting Chennai on a jealous spree lately. The bed looked comforting. Homeland had seasons waiting to be watch. The toll of the day, the fatigue of forced fasting, the depression of not having a Jaguar and the anger at the silly stupid process of acquiring a driver’s licence, the defeated victory of having shopped on a tiresome day, I picked the comforts of watching ‘The Alienist’.

Twenty minutes into a distracted watch later, I had had enough. I am going to make that sambar. I am going to eat that sambar today. I had opted against having seeded bread for dinner. I had worked way too hard, sacrificed way too many dreams, made a lot of compromises along the way and I wouldn’t be denied of Sambar that day. I checked the cupboard, I already had a stash of tamarind. Onions were there too. Tomatoes weren’t iffy. Plump and red. Quite obviously, I had imagined the house in a drought.

And so life has many carrots. Some , we choose. Some , others make that choice for us and we aren’t free to speak up and voice against it. Through the many miseries of daily struggles, it’s the simple pleasure and satisfaction of achieving the smaller , insignificant goals to life. I would probably have that Jag in a few years time, I’d probably have a lot of what I desire in course of time. What I really do wish for is that I have a grounded sense to appreciate that I don’t need many carrots, as long as I’m not making a carrot Sambar.

Karthik

Born to raise hell

While the title is a song from one of the metal gods, Motorhead, it predominantly has nothing much to contribute towards the context of the things to flow. I find it easier to talk about Jungles and animals than humans. For starters, talking about a forest and the flora , fauna robs me of the pleasure of offending anyone who can read. On that defensive note, here goes.

And so this animal ventured into a big scary forest. The woods were thick and dark. The day’s sun brought warmth and light to the wilderness and the cover of the night brought fear and damp cold. It was a harrowing place to start one’s life, I’ll give you that. The animal made its first batch of friends with the ants. The ants of the forest were everywhere. They led the numbers game. Their were a gargantuan workforce and were the most easiest to spot.

And so our animal of interest soon started to learn the ways of the ant. Work work work and always busy for the rainy day. The ants were driven by purpose and , frankly between the two of us, lacked ambition. Their quest for the purist satisfaction of work and effort wasn’t everybody’s cup of tea. Our animal eventually realised this. Resentment on one hand, boredom on the other, and throw in a healthy mix of ‘ What the hell am I even doing here? ‘ later, the animal decided to part ways with the ants. It wasn’t the end of the world and the jungle was a huge place after all.

Our animal of interest migrated from one herd to another. It moved from one pack to another. With each group it joined, it soon realised the mundane nature of the works. Each animal had a task to accomplish. Most of the animals did not worry about the larger picture. They were tasked with an action and the animals would do their best to accomplish it. For them, they took each day as it came. The work would start with the sun and would end with it as well. Some animals would work the nights. The context of purpose was rigid. All animals had a place in the jungle and fulfilled the purpose bestowed upon them. That was the unsaid status quo and nobody usually challenged it.

The king of the jungle had always been the Lion. All animals knew that and acknowledged that. To each of them, they had a view of what the king did. Some saw him as the beast of justice and others saw him as a slob who mooched off the efforts and hard work of the rest of the forest. The king barely had the time to sit down and hear the rumours pass around. Our animal of interest gradually worked its way through the food cycle. One fine week, it had an audience with the King. It was to work with the King for a while.

‘So what do you do?’ the animal asked humbly, addressing the king.

‘Nothing much. I sit around. Hunt when I’m hungry. I’ve got a pretty boring life actually. I don’t have many friends. And then when others try to take over the forest, I’ve got to go and put up a fight. Irony is, I’m actually a passive chilled out bloke. I hate violence but my job mandates me to be stand the ground and fend off invaders. It’s such a boring life, I tells ya’, the lion went on to mope.

So what happened to our Animal of interest? Ever wondered what animal it was when it started its time in the jungle? Ever wondered if it became something else when it migrated herds and joined other packs? Ever wondered if the animal managed to cope up with the reality of the Lion?

We are not so different from the animal of interest. We start both our lives in pretty much the same manner. We walk into the jungle of personal and professional life in the same way. As an empty slate. We explore our surroundings and make friends with blokes in the vicinity. Some are happy being ants. Some are happy being something else. Some are always unhappy , no matter where they are and what they do. We all pursue a holy grail. Some reach it, satisfied and happy. Some reach it, and sit bored from there on. Many just aspire it and keep wishing that one day they’d get there.

The moral of the story isn’t doused in pessimism. In fact, its the other way around. We aren’t restricted to be what we currently are. We are free enough to explore the world and be what we choose to be. There are limitations to the choices that we make. The rooted our choices, swaying away becomes hard. It just takes more effort. And so we lead our personal and professional lives in pursuit of borrowed perceptions. As long as such views offer hope, ain’t nothing wrong with that.

Going back to the tile. All of us are born to raise hell. Some do it, some aspire it, and many still wish and wonder if they’d ever manage it one day.

Karthik

What does it mean?

Hi

I’m 35 today. I used to be 15 a different lifetime ago.

I am known by many names. When I was a kid, I had just 2 names. Today, I have many.

I had many friends growing up. I think I still have friends today.

I think a lot. I’m both proud and worried about the fact that I can think. A lifetime ago, before I became me, I don’t remember thinking at all.

I try to understand the meaning of my life. I try to see if there is a purpose to it. When I was young, I didn’t care enough about such stupid questions. I had better things to do.

I’ve been writing a lot , these few years. A lifetime ago, I didn’t know I could write.

And just like that, my thoughts took to me on a conversation with my past self. Try hitting the search string ‘Why Unhappy’ in google and you’d find a million reasons and million thoughts on the matter. I think the first lesson that already goes overlooked is the fact that happy folks don’t usually sit down to think about trying out a search string on unhappiness. Am I happy or am I unhappy is something for me to sit and ponder. The context of this is about something else.

With the curiosity instigating a search, I managed to quench it through a quick scan of the things scribed in the first few search results. In their own right, I’d like to believe that every word written is a wisdom suppressed.

Let’s take a minute and choose to have an honest thought. Unless one is of an unsound mind, medically diagnosed with a condition that keeps the brain from forming a string of rational thought, I don’t think the cause of our unhappiness is a mystery at all. Denial is a yes, but mystery it isn’t. The popular information that flooded the so called ‘Help-Blogs’ was Pop Science at best.

In the brief amount of time that I spent looking at the content and before I could jump into throwing in a content of my own, I decided to sit down and classify the factors that lead to unhappiness in many people. My take is as follows

1. You don’t have what you want and you cant get over it

2. You think others are better and you don’t like what you are and what you represent

3. You are scared and have no means of pulling yourself off things that scare you.

4. You want others to like you but unfortunately they don’t.

There are at least a hundred more things listed out across each portal. I could see them as a derivative of the ones that I had listed out. To even shrink the list of four further, I think they can be classified as,

1. In your mind, you don’t like what you are

2. To your mind, others don’t like what you are

In and out. The simplest classification there ever is.

Back to the unhappiness quotient. One of the things that caught my attention was a line that read , ‘You don’t have friends’. Another one said ‘You hang out with Unhappy people’.

Those sentences led me back to being a kid. When I was a kid, I either liked others or I didn’t. I’d either choose to play with the kids or I’d choose to be on the opposing team. Life was simple because I hadn’t learnt to complicate myself back then. Today, under the guise of intelligence, we take comforts in throwing words to complicate our lives beyond compare.

The one about friends, it still haunts me. It leaves me with far too many thoughts. How in the world did we manage to complicate a simple thing called ‘Friends’. As kids, one made friends by virtue of proximity. Bunch of kids living in the same neighbourhood were very likely to be friends. Kids in the same class in a school, Friends. Kids sharing the same commute , Friends.

The trend was simpler. Face to Face. If I can see you, talk to you, pick up a fight with you, we had a good chance of being friends. And then came the digital revolution. Anonymity and digital incognisance made the deal of ‘Making friends’ easier.

It’s not easy to pretend and keep pretending when you meet someone in person, looking them right into their eyes. Your body language speaks volumes. You are either in and invested or you are out. There are good days and bad days. You learn to cope up with your friends and your friends learn to cope up with you. In the digital space, the dynamic changes drastically.

You are free to pretend whoever you want to be. You digital avatar is as real or as fake as you want it to be. Your face can be left natural or you can apply a million filters to it. It pans back into the above listed 4 categories. You want to be liked and hence you alter the way you appear, sound and think. The ones you get along with, you exchange more senseless banter. The ones you don’t, ignore and block is a click away. In short, we go through life, filtering people to meet our needs and specs rather than learning to live with differences and tolerances.

Then again, why would you bother to adjust and accommodate. It’s not exactly like you get to see them everyday, or work right beside them, or share actual physical space with them.

Friends. It used to be such a simple thing and now it aint so easy. No wonder, most of our strongest bonds of friendship are from Decades ago. School buddies, college buddies. I think , by now, you know why those bonds have been strong. Because they were real and not Virtual. Things that have a foundation in the real, have the capacity to survive in the virtual. The vice versa is not true.

We are unhappy because we cant stay happy. We cant stay happy because we either haven’t made peace with being ourselves. We also haven’t made peace with how the world views us. It’s that shift in perspectives and our inability to cope up that makes us unhappy.

Ask yourself this. Should you delete all your social media apps, even delete your whatsapp app. How many folks would really invest in an SMS or a phone call to stay in touch?

Ask yourself this. If you are dead in your digital social life, would that also mean that you are actually dead in the real life?

That should clear the illusion that a digital self provides. Art of staying happy comes from the art of knowing what’s real and what isn’t.

Karthik

Mirrors and Exaggeration

This almost feels like a patch of anxious nervousness after a brief stint of sabbatical from everything that surrounds life. It’s been a while since I’ve been myself. Plagued and haunted by woes of the mind and the body, it feels nice and at the same time , a bit daunting, to write again. I’ve been someone else for a while and my eyes strain when I try to view myself amidst the blaring glare that engulfs the background.

For what it’s worth, it’s been a voluntary exile. I had things to do and in the process I got to sacrifice the things that I enjoyed doing. Push to shove, it’s back to the proverbial square.

Speaking of mirrors and exaggeration, I’d like to believe that I could manage to pick a few lessons during my hiatus. Mirrors have a tendency to reflect and the mind has a tendency to exaggerate what that it perceives. And so we Segway to a train of thoughts. To set a little context, ever heard of this series called Black Mirror? It’s a series that reflects an exaggerated view of the kind of life that we lead in the modern social age. The series focus on how our lives gravitate towards social media. The series talks about how technology has been having a say on the quality of life that we are leading.

The blatant snide of the irony to the moment couldn’t be ignored. One of the episode from Black mirror talks about a technology that offers a chip to get embedded in the body. This device records all moments to life, it stores and catalogues all the memories that are made into classified moments. Imagine the moments feature that IOS offers, only here it is real time on the things that we see. The story revolves around the protagonist, if I could call him that, and his wife. The couple make it to a party and eventually all hell breaks loose from there on. The protagonist reviews the moments of the day and starts to pick on visual cues which lead him to suspect his wife.

The suspicion runs its course and rest of the episode is about the ability to call out specific moments from life and use them all to fuel the fight that is currently, in present, being waged.

I’ve been there myself a few times. Of course, by virtue of being the perpetrator, I’ve not often found myself digging through the past for specifics. There have been times when I’ve racked my mind in order to pull out phrases and context that resembled the actual words being said, that reflected the actual moment that was once experienced.

The past is easier in comparison to let go when we don’t have immediate access to all its glory. The human memory fades in time, it alters and fragments into a perspective memory rather than staying retained as the actual true north. In fact, there is no true north when it comes to any memory. Thanks to the simple fact that we lead a biased life, we apply our personal bias to everything , and that the process of applying this bias is both voluntary and involuntary , there is no memory which is a 100% free from any bias whatsoever.

There have been days when I’ve tried to access every available fragment of the moments once lived. With relative ease, I’ve always managed to assemble the moment back to what I thought the past was about. I could replay the conversations, observe the tempers and emotions at play, try to decipher the million things left unsaid. The exercise has always left me miserable. In real time, we usually live through a moment only once. Through our memories, we live through moments a million times over and over again. All the ‘action replay’ and ‘rewinds’ later, I’ve never managed to alter the outcome of the events already lived.

In Black mirror, the technology existed to replay everything. Memory on demand. Memory as a service. That’s just one episode. It mirrored the nature of being a human. We , rather I, have a tendency to look back and relive and re-experience. While I continue to grow and evolve each day, the mind’s affinity to subscribe to ‘ On demand misery’ has not drastically changed. Humans do that. Humanity does that a lot. We cling on to the past. We hold on to a few memories. As time goes on, our memory alters and changes. With ample time, we forget and things fade out.

While the episode exaggerates the nature of being human, it also mirrors what that we hide away from. We do live in the age where we try to compensate for real loses in the virtual world. We seek emotional gratification from texts and digital cues. We continue to alienate ourselves from expressing ourselves. The future is already here and the mirror reflects black. Maybe we aren’t fully there yet. We are getting there though.

On that note, Black mirror is a fun series to watch. It does pose a few interesting questions on technology and our additional to it. Do give it a shot.

Karthik

[Book Review] : Tibetan book of the dead

If there was an illusion that could be called the mother of illusion, I think spirituality would be just that.

The Tibetan book of the dead is a fantastic book on spirituality. I’ve not read many books on the matter, so to me, it’s good enough. It just has way too much information that my jaded mind struggles to comprehend.

This review will stay away from the bias of a spiritual aspirant. This is my attempt at writing a non spiritual view of a quintessential spiritual book. Here goes. Fortune favours the brave.

Reverse Engineering : The process is a product to conception approach to problem solving. Just because all the parts and clockwork are there, it doesn’t translate to an easy approach. It does however establish the building blocks required to conjure the final finished product. Life’s biggest antonym is Death. What better way to define life than starting at death and sweeping back to the point of origin. The book of the dead does exactly just that. It’s a book about the list of things that ought to be passed on to folks who are near death. It’s still not a cool idea to say ‘ PSSST, you are gonna konk out bro’ .

Whilst the ideals are to help the near dying transition better into death and beyond, the principles work like a charm if the living were to follow it. That’s like having an issue in the production system, painful escalations and an extensive RCA later, one figures out that blokes did not bother having a review or running a unit test case.

The point is, knowing what matters in the end is a fantastic guideline to accommodate practices while we are still alive and kicking.

Fears , Regrets and messy closet! : Oh but I am trying hard to not sound like a frantic wannabe spiritualist trying to solicit the words of wisdom from a book. Through the eyes of psychology and behaviour, the message is not that difficult to understand. Bottom line, fear. Fear leads to everything else. Fear of failure results in lack of actions which results in regret. Fear of failure leads to insecurity which leads to lack of actions. Fear of failure, leads to inertia which leads to lack of actions. I think when fear paralyses the mind, we find ourselves incapable of progressing with life.

Science offers a way to confront such fears. Fish bone analysis, Root cause analysis, cause and effect analysis, they are all roads to identifying what fails and what the consequences of failures are. One can start with, I get this wrong and my entire life is wasted. By virtue of sitting down and deconstructing the effects of consequence, one might soon realise that not many things usually lead to a life getting wasted. Mess up a delivery, mess up the immediate appraisal. That’s a cause and effect. But assuming that one would always mess everything up hence forth is just paranoia taking creative control over all the choices we stand to make in life.

The worst that can happen is one can lose one’s job. The worst that can happen post that is one may never find a job. The question to ask is, why am I so unemployable? That question alters a lifetime of unemployment. It facilitates options that we had never considered before.

The road to a happy death, and a happy staying alive is taking a stock of the things that scare us crazy. It’s human to fail. It’s human to fear that failure. It’s very human to assume that there is no success ever , after a failure. It is also human to have a bit of a common sense and argue that one has to be an idiot to volunteer to carry out the same set of mistakes over and over again. That special skill is called reluctance to learn , adapt, evolve and grow. Science or spirituality can do very little to help such people from their moment of inertia.

Acceptance and denial: The big deal is, when you are about to die, would you rather accept everything that you’ve done or would you choose to die staying comforted by the talons of denial. Denial is the ability of a person to blame oneself or rest of the world in order to justify why one deserves misery.

Acceptance is the ability of a person to accept that one might have been responsible(partly or in complete) to actions that led to a failure. Acceptance leads to acknowledgement that there is something to learn and something new to adopt to. Acceptance is key to evolution and growth. Either lead a life in denial and face the moment of truth where time doesn’t really matter anymore or make that effort to accept, face your failures, make an effort to call out the different grades of consequences to deal with and live a life of choices rather than feeling helpless and saying ‘i’m going with the flow’.

Forget about the million gods and billion souls. It’s psychology one on one. One either learns or resists. Resistance is futile. Consequences are inevitable. One faces them one day.

Illusions and Illusions of illusions : The biggest take away from the book is that once we reach the choice of acceptance or denial, should one choose to accept, one also sees through the illusions that one has always been surrounded by. We are not talking about the entire world being an illusion. I’d very much like that if that were to be the case. It isn’t. Violence is real. Hunger and poverty is real. Abuse is real. Misery is real. Pain is real.

The things that aren’t real are our forced choices to stay succumbed and imprisoned to the realities. Violence is real and walking away from it is a choice. Hunger is real, but trying hard to stay away from it is a choice. Abuse is real, standing up against it is a choice. We love our excuses. We hide behind words like ‘Insignificance’, ‘Powerless’, ‘What can one person really achieve’, ‘ its my fate’, ‘Destiny’ to stay comfortably numb , connected strong to such illusions.

There is no miracle cure. There are no one stop shops. Embracing science or spirituality for the sole reason of escaping the choices that one couldn’t find the courage to make is the biggest illusion of them all. In that context, Spirituality is the biggest illusion of them all. We are so eager to surrender and embrace something divine in order to distance ourselves from the responsibilities of the choices that we’ve already made and the choices that we hesitate forever to make It boils down to acceptance and denial. We awaken from one illusion only to embrace another.

One doesn’t need to read ancient scriptures or words of the wise to know this simple truth. As kids , we were told stories about god helps those who help themselves. As adults, we hide behind convenience that words from various sources provide.

And so even from a purist skeptic point of view, I do feel refreshingly enlightened by the book. It was easier to distance the imagery and symbolism adopted in the book and associate myself with the lessons that were intended to be imparted. I see the argument of science versus spirituality as a quintessential epitome of pointlessness. They are the same, different words and both leading to the fundamental simple truth. WAKE UP , SMELL THE ROSES, and START LIVING

Tamaso mā jyotir gamaya – From darkness, lead me to light

Karthik